Kicking off the second arc, “Autumnlands” #7 both narrows and expands the scope of “Tooth and Claw.” This issue focuses on what was, for me, the least interesting part of the previous arc: the relationship between Dusty and the Great Champion. However, Kurt Busiek and Benjamin Dewey still have plenty of surprises in store, and I couldn’t help but get swept right back up into this world. Dewey’s beautiful, incredibly unique art and Busiek’s oddball world building are still irresistible. After five months away, the only change is that things are getting stranger — and who doesn’t love that?
Left behind when the rest of Keneil made their escape, Dusty and the Great Champion (Learoyd) wander the wilderness below. There are a few political movements up on the rescue hall, but most of “Autumnlands” #7 is about the two stranded adventurers. As a result, things move slowly through some necessary exposition and world building until the big surprise at the end. The reader definitely gets to know Learoyd better, as he finally comes clean to Dusty about his ignorance and origins. Busiek has a clear sense of the characters’ voices, with lines like “Those with basic [magic] skills can do little things, like me” revealing Dusty’s rote learning and gentle humility, and responses like “Shit, I still don’t know this isn’t all some painkiller-induced hallucination, kid” showing Learoyd’s lurking fear and tough exterior. While the script can be quite heavy-handed when it comes to some characters’ pompous power grabs, Busiek takes a softer, more layered approach in Dusty and Learoyd’s conversations.
Dewey’s artwork is still something to behold. Animals in human clothes could easily look cartoonish, but his detailed, dense inking makes “Autumnlands” look like an old-fashioned inset, the kind of illustration ornate enough to be indexed at the front of the book. Whether it’s the architecture of the halls, the design of a random citizen’s jewelry or the pouches on Gharta’s belt, every element of this world is fully rendered. Unfortunately, Dewey is less meticulous with flora than fauna; though the autumnal, New-England-style landscapes in this issue are crisp and pretty, they don’t capture my eye like the city scenes.
Still, “Autumnlands” is a beautiful book. The panels in which Seven Scars hauls himself from the river — resurrecting him through sheer force of will — are particularly impressive. Dewey conveys so much about that character, the promise of his vengeance, his strength and his rage in those four wordless panels. (To be honest, I also enjoy Seven Scars best when I can only see Dewey’s powerful, creative character designs and I’m not confronted with the discomfort raised by dialogue in which only those characters inspired by indigenous peoples have stilted grammar.) Dusty’s expressions are similarly impressive; Dewey gives him readable, recognizable human emotions while still capturing his inherent puppy-ness.
Even without its “tooth and claw,” “Autumnlands” has plenty of bite. This ridiculously pretty, alluringly unique comic looks and sounds unlike almost anything else on the shelves. Dewey and Busiek have created a treat for fantasy and world building fans.